Unhappy Anniversary

Today (June 05, 2002) is the 35th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.

This occupation is and has been utter hell for the Palestinians who were made refugees by it, or who live under its “civil administration,” a gross misnomer for what is in fact one of the cruelest and most brutal regimes of military rule any where in the world today, and is the only remaining recognized foreign military occupation.

Increasingly the price of this occupation which once fell almost completely on its Palestinian victims is being felt by the occupier.

This miserable anniversary was marked today by a bomb which killed at least 16 Israelis, most of them soldiers who would not even have been born when the occupation started.

The Israeli foreign ministry spokesman, speaking on Radio Monte Carlo this morning, immediately held Yasir Arafat personally responsible for the attack, just as Israel always does. The RMC interviewer asked the obvious question that is almost never asked back in the United States. How is it, he wondered, that Yasir Arafat can stop these attacks when Israel has destroyed all his forces and institutions and completely confined him? All the Israeli spokesman could do was make the bland assertion that Arafat could do more if he wanted to. Arafat we are told just doesn’t want to because that is the nature of “terrorists” and bad people.

If I were an Israeli citizen listening to the constant claims that Arafat is personally responsible, I would be shocked that my government is able to pinpoint the person who its says personally gives the orders and makes all the horror possible and says it has the hard evidence to prove it, but just lets him sit there. I would demand that Arafat at the very least be expelled! How many people have been assassinated, tortured or kidnapped by Israel for allegedly doing far far less than they say Arafat has personally done?

Of course the gulf between the Israeli rhetoric about Arafat and the fact that Israel does not touch him does not reflect only concerns about international reaction if he were to be harmed, but amounts to a tacit admission of the obvious: if Israel with its tens of thousands of occupation troops, its sophisticated technology, its invasions and collective punishments, its assassinations, its collaborators its siege, its mass arrests, its torture, its high-tech border fences can not put a stop to these attacks then no one can. Let alone the spent, laughable, embarrassing Yasir Arafat.

But as much of a burden as he is to the cause of Palestinian rights, Arafat remains today of enduring value to Israel. As long as he is around, he provides an easy and willing scapegoat–willing being the operative word. Arafat’s unforgivable blunder is to have accepted responsibility for providing personal security to every Israeli, including not just every person in Tel Aviv, but also of hundreds of thousands of illegal colonists in the occupied territories, not to mention the occupation army itself. He did not make this mistake only once, by signing the Oslo accords, but makes it repeatedly up to this day. His shameful sell-out and exiling of Palestinian resistance fighters who withstood 38 days of siege and snipers at the Church of the Nativity, his agreement to jail Palestinians convicted by a kangaroo court for the killing of the Israeli ethnic cleanser Rehavam Zeevi, and now his charade of going along with CIA-sponsored “reforms” of his “security” forces are all designed first to preserve himself and his clique, second to defend Israel, and not at all to serve or protect the Palestinian people.

And yet these machinations explicitly legitimize and impose on every Palestinian the Israeli logic that the Palestinians are solely responsible for the situation on the ground and until they achieve the impossible of ensuring that Israel can colonize, brutalize and dispossess while being feted and loved by every Palestinian school child, Israel has no obligations whatsoever except to keep building settlements and killing anyone who tries to stand in the way.

We need to understand that when Sharon and Bush have their moments of doubt about Arafat and talk about replacing him, they are looking not for someone less like Arafat but someone even more like him. The replacement for Arafat is Arafat but only more so. How is it that of all the honorable, dignified Palestinian figures inside the occupied territories–like Haidar Abdelshafi, Eyad al-Sarraj, or Mustafa Barghouthi, to name but a few–the only candidate touted as a possible replacement for Arafat by the Israelis and Americans is an utter thug like Muhammad Dahlan, the head of “Preventive Security” in Gaza?

(It would be nice if, like Nelson Mandela–whom Arafat once compared himself to, Arafat knew when to step down, and decided to spend his remaining years in a comfortable retirement.)

Every one who is not brain-dead or a fanatical Zionist understands that it is the Israeli occupation and its rule of terror over millions of Palestinians that is the root of the violence, and therefore it is impossible to ensure the security of an oppressive structure that incites against itself and creates the violence that it claims it is designed to suppress.

The history of the “peace process” shows that there is no level of calm and cooperation that can induce Israel to end its occupation. Every period of calm has just been used by Israel as a convenient opportunity to accelerate the colonization of the occupied territories. We need to understand this. Israel is not interested in ending the occupation, and there is not yet a majority–and never has been–within Israel that has understood that peace means ending the occupation really and completely and creating genuine equality and justice between Israelis and the original inhabitants of Palestine.

It seems that no appeal to reason, no level of recognition and reassurance, will get through to an Israel at once drunk with its overwhelming power and its carefully nurtured sense of victimhood and paranoia. The message Israel has chosen to send is that the only way to end the occupation is for the price of continuing it to become higher than the price of ending it. That is indeed the lesson from Lebanon, which despite its determination not to repeat it, Israel is teaching once again.

In the absence of a Palestinian leadership capable of conducting such a liberation struggle on all the necessary fronts–diplomatic, media, political and military–through consistent, democractic and legitimate means, and in the absence of an Arab world and international community willing or able to confront Israel directly, radical groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad have filled the void, using horrifying attacks on civilians to raise the price of the occupation. They are succeeding in doing that, but at an unacceptable price to innocent Israelis and to the Palestinian cause.

It is true that suicide bombers are individuals who emerge from desperate circumstances and immeasurable suffering which drive some people to a course of action few of us can contemplate, but the organizations that train them and send them out are engaged in a calculated course of action which as much as it harms Israel corrodes Palestinian society and destroys the line between what is permissible and impermissible in pursuit of a just cause. I think many, even most Palestinians understand that, but the total void of leadership and determination from the Palestinian Authority increases the appeal of these groups if only as a last resort. Many Palestinians want simply to balance the terror that Israel has imposed on them with impunity for so long.

It is impossible to see where we will be 35 years from now, but the way things are going it looks like instead of being in the midst of a terrible conflict where there are several possible solutions, we will be in the midst of an even more terrible conflict with no possible solutions. And that may be the best case: there is always the risk that Israel will make good on the constant threats of ethnic cleansing that issue frequently from its ruling elite.

The signs are far from encouraging: Israeli Education Minister Limor Livnat said in response to today’s attack, after attending a meeting of “the security cabinet” that Israel should launch even more violent attacks on the Palestinians and impose total occupation on them. She praised “Operation Defensive Shield,” claiming that it:

“succeeded in causing a strategic change in demolishing a very central infrastructure of terror, but had not succeeded in safeguarding that strategic change, as the Palestinians, the terrorists are manufacturing anew the weaponry that they use. Their capability of producing more and more bombers and more and more bombs only grows the longer that the IDF remains outside the centers of Palestinian cities. Therefore, we apparently will need to locate ourselves in Area A, in (Palestinian) cities, in a more significant manner, in other words, to sit there, in some way or other as we did in Operation Defensive Shield.”

Note how for Livnat “Palestinians” and “terrorists” are synonymous–hence the need to treat all Palestinians as “terrorists.” There is every indication that Livnat speaks for many Israelis.

Perhaps Ms. Livnat feels that brutalizing on the Palestinians in the occupied territories for thirty five years was not quite enough. Well, let’s see what another couple of decades of occupation does not just to the Palestinians, but to the long term future of a disintegrating Israel that is quickly confirming its status as a fractious and bankrupt banana republic ruled by a band of gangsters.

If the Palestinian Authority survives in anything like its present form for that long, then at least we will have an Israel and a Palestine that resemble and deserve each other. Thus will Bush’s vision of two states living side by side be fulfilled.